US sees Iran behind hostage photos of ex-FBI agent

By Matt Apuzzo

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 8 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

Though U.S. diplomats and the FBI have tried behind the scenes to find Levinson, of Coral Springs, Fla., and bring him home, both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have said little about his case and have applied little public pressure on Iran for more information about Levinson's whereabouts.

Christine Levinson has watched more public pressure result in Iran's release of a trio of hikers, a journalist named Roxana Saberi and a team of British sailors captured by the Iranian Navy. Everyone has come home except her husband.

Washington's quiet diplomacy, meanwhile, has yielded scant results beyond the Iranian president's promise to help find Levinson.

"We assumed there would be some kind of follow-up and we didn't get any," Christine Levinson said. "After those pictures came, we received nothing."

In one meeting between the two countries, the Iranians told the U.S. that they were looking for Levinson and were conducting raids in Baluchistan, a mountainous region that includes parts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. But the U.S. ultimately concluded that the Iranians made up the story. There were no raids, and officials determined that the episode was a ruse by Iranian counterintelligence to learn how U.S. intelligence agencies work.

An expert on Russian organized crime, Levinson retired from the FBI in 1998 and became a private investigator. He was investigating cigarette smuggling in early 2007, and his family has said that took him to the Iranian island of Kish, where he was last seen. Kish is a popular resort area and a hotbed of smuggling and organized crime. It is also a free trade zone, meaning U.S. citizens do not need visas to travel there.

FBI spokeswoman Jacqueline Maguire said: "As we near the sixth anniversary of his disappearance, the FBI remains committed to bringing Bob home safely to his family."

In an interview, Levinson's wife said that because her husband disappeared in Iran, she believes her husband is still being held there. She doesn't think the U.S. government has put enough pressure on Iran to release her husband.

"It needs to come front and center again," Levinson said. "There needs to be a lot more public outcry."

She said she has met with Obama and John Brennan, Obama's counterterrorism czar and nominee to run the CIA. She said that both men pledged to do everything they could to free her husband. Now, nearly six years after his disappearance, she thinks Iran is being let off the hook.

"He's a good man," she said. "He just doesn't deserve this."

Meanwhile, Robert Levinson will miss another family milestone when his oldest daughter Susan gets married in February.

"He's missed so many," his wife said. "It's very upsetting."

Contact the Washington investigative team at DCinvestigations (at) ap.org.

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